The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of people's lives worldwide, including the work of social workers and the education of social work students. Field placements are a significant part of social work education, but during the pandemic they were cut short and most teachings moved online. The current mixed methods study examined the effects of social work education on social work students' empathy and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic on the island of Ireland. A matched sample of forty-nine students completed an online survey at the start (T1) of their degree and at the end (T2). A further 229 students who only completed the T1 survey were compared to 70 others who only completed the T2 survey. The results showed improved resilience in the cohort comparison. There were no differences in empathy in the matched sample nor between the cohorts. Thematic analysis of students' narratives showed that they found the switch to online learning difficult, with some reporting negative impacts on their mental health and the abrupt ending of placements impacting their feelings of preparedness for practice. Implications of this study and future research areas are discussed.


This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cite as

McFadden, P., Ross, J., Byrne, J., Flanagan, N., Dolan, R., Kirwan, G., Kelly, E., Shore, C., McDonald, O., Wilson, E., Slavin, P., Roulston, A., McCartan, C. & Ketola, M. 2023, 'The role of social work education in relation to empathy and self-reported resilience: Results from Entry to Exit of Social Work Education on the Island of Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic', British Journal of Social Work, 53(5), pp. 2902-2921. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcad046

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Last updated: 01 September 2023
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